Memorial Day weekend big for running red lights, often with deadly results

If you’re looking to bend fenders with a red-light runner in Arlington, forget about those tense rush hours. Your best bet for a close encounter is in the middle of the afternoon. And as holiday weekends go, there’s no better choice than this one.

Those traffic nuggets emerge from what may be the first national statistical analysis of patterns in red-light running. The analysis is a doughnut with too big a hole from the local perspective: Results from the District’s ubiquitous red-light cameras are missing because the District doesn’t use the same company — American Traffic Solutions — that virtually everyone else does.

The District — which has issued an average of 84,000 red-light tickets, valued at about $12 million in recent years — got some of its equipment from ATS but doesn’t use the company’s monitoring services.

But ATS’s cameras are used in 14 Maryland communities within commuting distance of the District, where 101 cameras issue an average of 399 red-light tickets each day. And ATS collects data from eight cameras in Arlington and Falls Church that churn out an average of 29 tickets daily.

Intersections are the single most deadly places on the roadways, with federal numbers showing that about 43 percent of collisions occur in or near them. In 2011, intersection collisions killed 8,500 people, almost 29 percent of that year’s fatality count.

“My husband, Mark Wandall, was killed by a careless red-light runner when I was nine months pregnant,” said Melissa Wandall, president of the National Coalition for Safer Roads, which compiled the data. “Our daughter has never known her father, and I will forever feel his absence in our lives. I hope that this report will raise awareness of the risks of red-light running.”

The analysis found that red-light running in the D.C. suburbs in 2013 fairly closely mirrored what the coalition found elsewhere in the nation.

Get-away Friday — the Friday before Memorial Day — had the highest number of red-light violations, with 16,590, and Sunday was a day of intersection tranquility with 13,045.

Surprisingly, most of the violations occurred in the afternoon between 1 and 5 p.m. (28,984) rather than during the rush hour, when drivers are in a hurry and often get trapped blocking an intersection when the light turns.

Though Memorial Day weekend is the most popular holiday period for red-light running nationally (39,021 violations), in the D.C. suburbs, July 4 sees more of it (1,557 tickets).

Overall, outside of the District, people ran red lights 103,439 times in 2013.

“The data on the number of people that ran red lights last year is striking,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “It indicates that the public continues to see traffic laws as suggestions rather than rules that must be followed. Drivers are becoming more blatant and aggressive, which says to me that increased enforcement is going to be necessary to save lives. Automated enforcement is particularly critical in D.C. with the diverse mix of transportation modes.”

The coalition collected red-light data from 2,216 cameras across 202 areas in 20 states. The cameras recorded a total of 570,122 violations, almost a third of them during the afternoon.

Almost all intersection crashes — 96 percent — are the fault of the driver rather than a mechanical or traffic system failure, according to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

ashley.halsey@washpost.com

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Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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